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MessagePosté le: Mar 29 Sep - 21:01 (2009) Répondre en citant Back to top

The Illustrious Stardwelling Armada

The most gregarious and advanced of the three spaceborne civilizations in the universe, the Stardwellers are also a culture at the farthest edges of humanity. They constantly alter their bodies, minds, and social structures, forever seeking new forms of life and activity. To speak of the “average” stardweller’s body or mind is meaningless.

The Stardwellers are bound together by their love for outer space. Many Stardwellers have never set foot on a planet. The Stardwellers are the only civilization that really builds and uses starships — others use ormholes from planet to planet, or from planetside to deep space if it becomes necessary. The Spacers have their generation ships, and the Disciples their hollowed-asteroid Anchorages, but the Stardwellers have genuine, wormholedriven, inversion-powered starships, replicated with care from asteroid belts and cometary debris. The ships range from autopiloted two-passenger shuttles to ten-mile-long cylinder-and-ring behemoths.

Stranger designs can be seen, too — nano-thin self-repairing translucent bubbles with gravatic grapple drives. Wellarmored “walkers” whose nanowire legs extend and retract to pull themselves between ships in a fleet. Liquid water habitats inside a comet-like icy shell. Genetically fabricated beings with space for human beings inside (or sometimes outside, clinging on like oversized remoras). There are even, for the sheer jest of it, quarter-mile-wide “flying saucers” designed to skip off atmospheres like a stone skipping on a lake.

Once you’re inside the ship, things become even stranger and more otherworldly. A Stardweller ship visiting 20th century Earth could be mistaken for an entire alliance of alien species. Skin tone is merely the beginning: different body forms such as quadrupedal or octopoidal; new varieties of sensory organs; exoskeletons; gills and fins; spinnerets; pheromones; symbiotic organisms; one-way respiratory systems; and thousands of less-obvious alterations can be found everywhere. Zero-g gives them more opportunity to experiment with different forms — threefold or higher symmetries, jellyfish-like tendrils, rubbery skins to protect from impact, vacuum-capable bodies, photosynthetic fronds, these and more are not just accepted, they are genuinely common. Stardwellers thrive on diversity. Weaving biotech and nanotech together into a single cohesive whole, the Stardwellers alter their forms as thoroughly as the Mechanicans.

Mental alterations are common as well, with group-minds, cross-linked hemispheres, and neural meshes contributing the majority of changes. Because most biotech alterations pass through to one’s children, it is a rare Stardweller indeed who shows no variations from the basic human form, even if the alterations are merely cosmetic.

Stardweller culture is one of interleaving reliance. The Stardwellers acknowledge and protect the idea that their civilization is interconnected in much the same way as an ecosystem or a planetary economy. No one part works independently of the others. Respecting others for their own abilities is one of the psychohistorical foundations of the Diversity core value.

Despite the name Armada, the Stardwellers are not organized militarily, instead using a complex metatech process to choose their leaders. Voting, memetic screening, and applied psychohistory are all involved. Stardweller government is exceptionally confusing to outsiders — it requires significant mental power or legal experience to really understand what’s going on. While some trappings of democracy remain, not everyone can be a candidate for every office. Psychohistorical analysis and memetic profiling of candidates provide insights into what each is most capable of, and areas in which they may be deficient. Naturally, with memetic training and lenses, making yourself into a better candidate is certainly possible, but it’s generally discouraged. No one wants twelve indistinguishable candidates optimized for the same office.

< ENCADRE >

From the Fringe

Most civilizations were founded by some fringe element from Earth, something more or less hidden in the corners of 21st-century society. The Tao is descended, roughly, from the Society of Creative Anachronism. The Masquerade’s most obvious traditions were inspired by African mask-making societies. Stories of gypsies gave rise to the Roamers. The Stardwellers have a much more direct line of descent: they were originally a large group of organized science fiction geeks, which really explains a lot about them.

< /ENCADRE >

The Stardweller economy is set up so as to bring everyone towards the same wealth level, with little enough capitalism and class struggle to allow for economic incentives other than money. Peer recognition is more important to most Stardwellers than cash, especially since the civilization takes great care to ensure that the basics of life are available to all. Unfortunately, this does lead to those who are, for whatever reason, unable to receive recognition becoming rather angry and disaffected. The underside of Stardweller society isn’t economic — it’s social and emotional.

Most Stardwellers make heavy use of technology in their daily lives. Meshes are common, dermal microbots can be assumed for every citizen, and hildren are trained in high-level social techniques. The Armada’s citizens have the highest average level of technology in the universe. The money to pay for all this comes from orbital art galleries, scientific research performed in the depths of space for other cultures, and surveillance work conducted for other civilizations. The Stardwellers make excellent gobetweens.

The Stardwellers are allied with the Eternal Masquerade and the Tao of History. They have an open invitation to bring their ships over Mechanican planets. The Union has made it clear that they’ll shoot the Stardwellers out of the sky if they ever bring their ships into orbit, but most people seem not to mind their presence.

Common Name: Stardwellers
Emblem: A star, yellow, for our ancient home.
Its eight points resemble the compass rose, because we navigate the universe and the future. In the background, two colliding galaxies, with centers of new starbirth, representing the potent effects of melding ideas.
Inspector Status: Equivalent to an FBI or customs agent.
Benefit: Stardwellers suffer no penalties in zero-g and low-gravity situations. They also receive an extra Locality profession at level 3.
Core Values: Freedom and Diversity

Freedom does not refer to physical freedom, but rather to ideological freedom. It helps Stardwellers resist any attempt to remove what they see as basic rights, and lets them argue more effectively against restrictions that might be put on their actions or selves. Arguing with a Stardweller over the merits of restricted research, caste-style societies, indentured servitude, or similar ideological restrictions is an exercise in futility.

Diversity argues that no individuals or groups should be excluded or marginalized because of their differences. Stardwellers who see bigotry or intolerance are unlikely to merely ignore the situation. Stardweller society strives to make room for all different types.

A Riding of Stardwellers

The Grand Convention takes place every year — Old Earth years — in a location chosen at the previous Convention. The first Convention was held above Old Earth itself, and it was generally agreed that, unless there was a great need for memory and mourning, such a thing should not happen again. The Rememberance is a time for mourning and solemn contemplation; the Convention is a time for jubilation and the exchange of ideas.

The Great Convention is what perpetually creates Stardweller culture. It is a mixing pot of ideas that both creates new possibilities and connects disparate groups. Without it, the Stardwellers would both fragment and stagnate. Most of them know this already, but what they remember is this: it is both too long and too short, too large and too small, and above all else, it is intense.

This year, the Convention takes place in the outskirts of the Lambda Khermaion star system, in the Melantine galaxy, some billion light years or more from Old Earth. The Convention spreads across the system’s Kuiper Belt, a relatively safe location with plenty of raw organics for replication purposes. The First Team, tasked with setup, has been here for a month already, and their nanotech has cleared out a space about the size of Earth’s orbit. A unique waystation has been built, different from each of the thousand that came before, to serve as the hub for the meeting.

Over ten billion Stardwellers arrive, some as far as a week ahead of time. Most come in starships. Some billion or so are representatives from more introverted branches of the civilization, sent in spaceships and recalled via wormhole. There are even a million or so from other civilizations, come to see what all the fuss is about. The space near the waystation becomes a beautiful latticework of ships, bridges, tubes, tethers, and stranger things. Colored lights make the entire arrangement seem like a starbirth nebula, and in some ways, the two things are not so dissimilar. It is at the core of the Convention that the next year’s great advances will be kindled. Uncountable friendships are formed at every Convention, and with the long lives of the Stardwellers, there are some Sleepers here who remember the first Convention, and still come out of hibernation every few years just to see friends from that fateful day.

After the opening ceremonies, the Vacuum Flower Society presents its newest body forms, capable of andling deep space for up to a year at a time. The Order of the Iron Sunrise presents its deep-universe analyses, its search for identical regions of spacetime in the far universe. The Neuromantic Guild gives tongue-in-cheek analyses of the status of the Aia and Transcendentals. The Lords of Light organize a sundive into the outer layers of Lambda Khermaion. The Zeitgeist Collective records everything, distilling the essence of the Great Convention for those billions of unfortunates who could not come, and as a plea to those hundreds of millions more Stardwellers who have gone off into the deep universe, perhaps never to return.

Not everything here is organized, though. Out of the limelight, old and new friends meet. Things as small as body type, chemical base, communication schemata, or neurotype will not keep these people apart. Some put their best faces forwards, holding back the parts they don’t want others to see; others dive in with passion and enthusiasm. There are latenight conversations, movie viewings, long walks, games, poetry jams, fistfights, reconciliations, purchases, collaborations, and every inch of everything humanity is and could be and wants to be all rolled into one.

It is said that at the Great Convention you tell a whole year’s stories in one week, but after it, you tell that week’s stories for the rest of the year.

All too soon, it is over. The hundred and sixtyeight hours are gone, the closing ceremonies have declared the location of the next Convention, and they’re starting to charge overtime for those who stay. The old-timers complain about how things used to be better, but say there’s always next year. Those who had to sleep lament their inferior bodies, while those who stayed awake lament their lack of sleep.

There are hugs and tearful goodbyes, friendly waves, private exchanges of contact information. There are some who change ships, so struck with another person that after just one week they are ready to find a new life among a new group of stars. One y one the ships disappear, and one can see the stars again from the waystation. It is a bittersweet moment for those who remain.

The Last Team kicks out the final stragglers after a few days, sending them home via wormhole if necessary. The Civic Works Bureau takes over from here — there’s always someone in the universe who needs a massive, functional space station, after all. It’s another year of work and life for the Stardwellers, and the more interesting the better, or they’ll have no good stories to tell next year.

The Descent: A Stardweller’s Tale

Going outwards in a solar system is easy, if you’re prepared for it. You just deploy a sail, let the winds and radiation pressure push you out. It’s not fast, but it works. I’ve got three or four tutorials for that sort of thing.

Going inwards? Different story. It’s not like you can just “let the sun pull you in” — you’re in orbit now. You need to create some reaction fuel, work up some sort of long-range grapple, or hitch a ride.

Luckily all I need to do is get a few thousand miles, to the other side of this asteroid belt. Piece of cake, right?

My mental recording is still running. I have the evidence. I have to let people know what happened. If I survive, this is worth a lot of money, and will do a lot of damage to some people I’m very mad at right now.

I spend about twenty minutes preparing. My dermal bots do some long-range observation, coordinating with the navigation lens and the thin local infosphere. My nanocloak spreads out to catch some rays; it’s not much power, but I can provide quite a bit from my own body. I pull a transmutation rod out of my boot, reprogram it for rocket fuel, and fire it up on some of the tiny passing meteors I snag. Others I crush into powder and let my cloak’s replicator turn it into fifty-ton cable and self-propelled grappling pitons. Once recon is done, I pull in my dermal bots, so I won’t accidentally tangle their nanotube tethers. I prepare my mind.

I could sit here and replicate myself a whole ship in about eight hours, but I’m short on time. I can only hold my breath so long. I could replicate some oxygen, but I’m going to need the cloak’s power reserves, because I need to get back now.

I wait another minute for a good window, and then launch myself with all the force my legs can muster.

The next hour is a test of my limits. If I didn’t have a zero-g body, I wouldn’t be able to make some of the swings I need to for navigation. If my mesh was any slower, I wouldn’t be able to calculate trajectories, torques, and probabilities of trailing micrometeors behind the larger asteroids. Sometimes my luck is good and I come around a large asteroid with a fifty-mile clear stretch. Other times, my luck fails, and I use up precious reaction fuel to nudge myself out of the way of a very messy death. If my bones were weaker, if my cartilidge wasn’t reinforced, if my brain wasn’t embedded in a solid matrix... There must be a thousand ways to die out here.

They expected me to die out there, but they’re going to be disappointed. I’m in the zone right now. I’ve got a lens for it.

I finally see home ahead and use up the last of the reaction fuel, bringing me to a gentle tap on the walls, only about twenty meters per second. I let the zone lens fade, scuttle around the side of the asteroid, and go in my front door. The place was a mess after the Darwinians ransacked it and dumped me across the field, but it’s been putting itself back together. The house’s AI wants some revenge, and I agree.

I emerge an hour later, rested and prepared. I have my tools now, you jerks. My home isn’t just some rock, it’s a starship loaded with antimatter. You’re about to learn what survival of the fittest really means.

Stardweller vidship by Kiriko
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MessagePosté le: Mar 29 Sep - 21:01 (2009) Back to top

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